Ted Kennedy's roof-raising endorsement of Barack Obama.

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Jan. 28 2008 6:17 PM

That Old Kennedy Magic

Ted Kennedy's roof-raising endorsement of Barack Obama.

Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy. Click image to expand.
Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy

Sen. Ted Kennedy did not just endorse Barack Obama today; he passed him his brother John's baton, 45 years on, and bet the whole darn Kennedy Compound that this man is The One. Oh, and he performed a double vivisection on the Clintons as 6,000 cheered.

The biggest applause line of the day came when Kennedy said that Obama fights for what he believes in, "without demonizing those who hold a different view." And unlike some he could name, what Obama is selling is "not just about himself, but about all of us," Kennedy thundered.

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He did not make his decision to back Obama instead of Hillary Clinton seem like a very tough call, given that the choice as he described it was between fear and hope, the past and the future, meanness and possibility.

He not so obliquely slapped down Bill Clinton's description of Obama's record on Iraq as "a fairy tale," saying, "We know his true record. When so many others were silent or simply went along, he opposed the war in Iraq. Let no one deny that truth!"

And he spit on the attempt to paint Obama as a naive kid peddling false hope: "What counts in our leadership is not the length of years in Washington. …With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. With Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay."

He urged voters not to listen to former President Clinton's naysaying, likening it to Harry Truman's suggestion that JFK was too green to be president back in the day. And only when he duly noted that "whoever is the nominee will have my support and will have yours, too" did the general roar of the crowd subside for a second. The middle-school teacher seated behind me in the bleachers muttered, "That's your opinion."

When Obama's turn came, he couldn't seem to help turning one of Hillary's recent comments back on her: "This is more than just politics for me; this is personal." But it didn't matter what he said at that point.

"OK, I'm sold!" said Allison Dunatchik, a 19-year-old student from Portland, Ore., who was carrying a textbook, Sex-Based Discrimination. Her friend Catherine Taegel, from Fairfax, Va., said Kennedy had closed the deal for her, too: "In '04, I didn't even think change was possible." Diann Heine, a longtime aide to Hubert Humphrey, left American University's Bender Arena building crying. "I never thought I'd feel this way again," she said. "It's a miracle."

Melinda Henneberger is a Slate contributor and the author of If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians To Hear.